What John McCain is to the Republican Party, Ronald J. Sider is to the Evangelical Movement. Sider consistently locates himself within the movement of evangelicalism, but just as consistently he refuses to toe the party line. For years he has pointed out evangelical blindspots and sins.
Sider just came out with a new book, The Scandal of Evangelical Politics (BakerBooks, February 2008).
I'm sure the timing of its release was no accident. With evangelicals being, arguably, the difference in the last two general elections, Sider and BakerBooks wanted to release this work at a time when our nation is again embroiled in political debate.
I don't at all want to endorse this book. I just today picked it up and started reading it; it just came out yesterday. Rather, I'd like to use the book and its chapters as an impetus for some interactive discussion here on Christians in Context. So, let's get started:
Chapter One is titled "Tragic Failure, New Opportunity." As the title shows, Sider is not at all bashful about his position: he says at one point "Christian political activity today is a disaster." He briefly details how evangelicals went from little to no political involvement in the mid 1960s, to being so heavily involved that they brought Reagan into the White House in 1980. The problem, Sider says, is that there has been very, very little evangelical reflection on how and why we do politics. "Grounded in an emotional fervor that characterized the revivalism that so powerfully shaped evangelicals, their political activity was populist, based on intuition and simplistic biblical proof-texting rather than systematic reflection." The result, according to Sider, is confusion and inconsistency on a number of matters. He notes:
- Our commitment to human rights focuses almost solely on abortion, and we do little for the millions of children who die every year of starvation or the millions of adult who are killed by tobacco smoke.
- Our inconsistency on matters of governmental control: when it comes to issues of healthcare, welfare, and charity, we declare that the individuals and churches should start and finance these programs, not the federal government. However, when it comes to issues of marriage, abortion, pornography, we want the government to take legislative action. Sider says that this is an apparent inconsistency that we need to justify or jettison.
- Overall, Sider says that there is a dearth of Christian political action for things such as racism, environmental protection, or the empowerment of the poor.
Sider seems to say that one of two things will happen: either we will implode upon ourselves politically, and revert to isolationism, or we will come up with some type of orthodox public policy.
He gives two reasons why we should do the latter:
1. Practically, evangelicals can do good in the world if they are politically active: the church could have probably stopped Hitler from coming to power in pre-WWII Germany if it had not been slumbering, and imagine if William Wilberforce had been politically apathetic!
2. Theologically, Jesus is the Lord of our life, and he must be Lord even over our public, political lives. As Sider says "the obligation to vote responsibly follows necessarily from my confession that Christ my Lord calls me to love my neighbor."
If you wouldn't mind participating, please provide thoughts on any of the following:
Does the church align itself too closely with any one party or any one cause?
What elements of our two main parties (Republican/Democrat) are incompatible with the Christian faith?
What do you think about Sider's contention that the pro-life position of Christians is too narrowly focused on abortion?
What do you think of all the talk of providing healthcare for all citizens? Should we as Christians support this or fight against it?